Professor Lyn Littlefield OAM FAPS

One of the primary objectives of the APS is to advance both the discipline and profession of psychology, and an important part of this is to promote appropriate models of psychology education and training to suit the environment in which practitioners operate. This involves constant monitoring of emerging trends and changes in government policy, the higher education sector, healthcare delivery, workforce demands, regulatory frameworks, economic and social developments, and international standards. Coupled with this careful monitoring of the external environment is seeking opportunities to influence policy and developments through representation of psychology on influential committees and advisory groups, through submissions to important enquiries and reviews, and through prominent strategic partnerships.

The APS has followed this process in relation to promotion and advocacy for revised models of psychology education and training to suit the fast-changing context in which psychology operates. A number of recent developments, particularly in the higher education sector and health workforce reform agenda, will bring significant pressures on the current model of psychology education and training. It is clear that psychology needs to heed these rapidly occurring developments and be ready to present its own revised model of education and training that has synergy with the reforms and still maintains high standards of education and training for the psychology profession. The APS is currently proposing a revised model of education and training to proactively address these external developments rather than have revisions imposed under various reform agendas. The revised APS model also presents significant opportunities to develop and promote more flexible, higher education-based training pathways for the profession.

This article provides members with some background to the APS reviews of psychology education and training, including a recap of international standards and a summary of the current higher education and workforce pressures which have contributed to developing the revised model. The outline of the proposed model is presented following this, and members are encouraged to provide feedback. 

International standards of training

A review of international psychology education and training models, including those in the UK, USA and Canada, indicates that professional postgraduate training at the Masters degree level is the general minimum standard for entry into the psychology profession. This requirement is also in accord with developments within the Bologna process in Europe and  efforts to standardise professional education and training requirements in the ‘transportable’ European Diploma of Psychology (EuroPsy).

The EuroPsy involves a Masters-level qualification followed by a year of supervised practice and involves three phases: 

(1) a three-year undergraduate sequence with high psychology content; (2) a two-year Masters degree in professional psychology which includes a three month internship; and (3) a one-year period of supervised psychology practice in the workplace.

APS reviews of psychology training models

Over the last five years or so, the APS has taken a proactive approach to meet the challenges and pressures on Australian psychology education and training by undertaking two formal reviews of the model of training. This has involved the establishment of two sequential Reference Groups of senior academics, practitioners and registration board members to review models and recommend appropriate changes. These two reviews have been undertaken in the context of the external trends outlined above, but with paramount consideration given to retaining psychology’s longstanding status as a science-based discipline and delivering education and training of a high standard that produces high quality practitioners and researchers. The reviews have also had to grapple with the need to address the inconsistencies in the two current pathways to registration as a psychologist in Australia (workplace internship and postgraduate training), with the ultimate goal of a single pathway through raising the Australian psychology education standard to the minimum equivalence of international psychology training standards, which is a Masters degree. This extremely complex set of considerations both within psychology and in the external environment indicates the size of the task of reforming Australian psychology’s education and training, and the need for realistic and stepwise progress towards the ultimate goals.

The first APS National Psychology Education and Training Reference Group was established in early 2008 and resulted in the introduction of an alternative accredited ‘5+1’ pathway to registration as a transitional arrangement to replace the ‘4+2’ pathway, incorporating a fifth year of university training (the Graduate Diploma of Professional Psychology) followed by a one-year accredited workplace internship under probationary conditions. Since the Graduate Diploma of Professional Psychology was incorporated into the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) standards, an increasing number of universities have established the course and this is proving very popular with students. The APS has worked hard to develop and promote the ‘5+1’ training option, and its establishment has been a significant step towards uniform nationally consistent high standards for practising Australian psychologists.

A number of new developments in the higher education sector, health workforce reform and regulatory framework since the first Reference Group completed its work have necessitated the recent establishment of a second APS review of the education and training model for psychology, which is being undertaken by the APS Psychology Education and Training Review Group. This new Group again comprises senior APS academics and practitioners as well as members from APAC and the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA). The APS Review Group has devised revisions to the model of psychology education and training in response to the following developments. 

Current pressures within higher education

Revisions to the Australian Qualifications Framework

One of the most recent significant developments exerting pressure on psychology education is the requirements of the revised Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) which came into effect in July 2011. 

The 2011 revisions to the AQF imposed a new descriptor on all Doctorate level qualifications, requiring a minimum of two years of full-time research work as part of the degree and bringing significant implications for psychology’s professional Doctorates (DPsychs). This research requirement makes it difficult to fit in the current amount of coursework and practicum within a three-year degree.

A second aspect of the 2011 AQF revision established two different levels of Masters qualifications – a one or two-year program (the ‘regular’ Masters degree) and an Extended Masters involving an additional year of postgraduate training. 

The overall effect of these AQF changes for professional psychology training may well be that DPsychs will be discontinued in favour of MPsychs, dual ‘specialty’ Doctorates may not be possible, and some current MPsychs may directly follow on from an undergraduate degree resulting in a five-year qualification. These effects have serious implications for advanced practitioner training in psychology and require redesign of the psychology education and training model. 

Underfunding of postgraduate professional psychology degrees

Other significant pressures on psychology education from within the higher education sector involve chronic underfunding of postgraduate professional psychology courses and hence the lack of places in these degrees, as well as continuing high student demand for these as students shift from research to postgraduate professional degrees. A large number of suitable applicants for professional postgraduate psychology courses are turned away each year because demand for places far outstrips supply. 

Registration statistics show that approximately half of the psychology workforce still gains registration via the workplace internship route rather than through postgraduate training, and it is abundantly clear that more professional postgraduate training places are required to bring Australia up to international standards. However, despite sustained advocacy from psychology the supply of training places has not improved. As the result of the chronic underfunding of professional psychology training due to its costs, universities lose on average $8,500 per annum on each Masters place, which is an unsustainable situation. It is evident that postgraduate places cannot be expanded unless they are fully fee paying – or a different training model for psychology is introduced. 

Pressures from health workforce reforms

The sweeping new reforms to the health workforce being implemented by the government agency Health Workforce Australia (HWA) also have major implications for the education and training pathways for the psychology profession. The broad strategic directions of the reforms involve an increase in shared training, expanded scopes of practice across the health professions and moves towards generalist models both across and within professions. 

These moves may see other segments of the health workforce providing a substitute psychology workforce to deliver psychological services. These less qualified health workers will be people who have undertaken shorter training courses  with far less psychology content. There is considerable ‘wastage’ from the psychology profession of graduates with three-year psychology degrees, as currently less than 50 per cent of graduates go on to study fourth year psychology and less than 50 per cent of Honours graduates undertake further research or professional training in psychology. However, many of these graduates do want to go into the profession of psychology.

HWA will model demand and supply for the psychology workforce this year and this will inform its agenda for psychology training models. HWA’s push towards more generalist models and generic training will mean that more generalists will be produced to match workforce demands. 

SUMMARY OF PRESSURES FOR REVISIONS TO PSYCHOLOGY'S TRAINING
  • The international training standard for psychology is a minimum Masters-level qualification and the transportable EuroPsy is increasingly being adopted as a standard. In Australila the workplace internship pathway to registration places Australian psychology education and training below this standard, and therefore changes are required to bring it up to international parity.
  • Under the revised Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) specifications, Doctorates must have at least two years of full-time research; and Masters degrees are specified at two levels – a one or two-year 'regular' Masters and a longer Extended Masters. These changes to the revised AQF may result in a discontinuation of psychology's professional Doctorates, dual specialty Doctorates may not be possible, and some current MPsychs may become five-year qualifications. 
  • Demand for postgraduate psychology places far outstrips supply, and, despite sustained advocacy efforts, chronic underfunding of postgraduate professional Masters courses means that postgraduate places cannot be adequately expanded unless they are full fee paying. 
  • The sweeping health workforce reforms being implemented by Health Workforce Australia will require more generalists within the health professions, including psychology, and new generalist training models may be imposed across the professions.

The proposed new APS model of psychology training

MAJOR BENEFITS OF THE MODEL
  • More pre-professional and applied content within the undergraduate psychology sequence will increase the workplace readiness of graduates.
  • More flexible postgraduate training options will enable higher education institutions to educate a larger number of students at lower per capita costs, thereby increasing the availability of quality training for the profession.
  • The redesign of current postgraduate degrees within the AQF revisions enable the introduction of generalist training at a Masters level as well as retaining more advanced specialist training at the Extended Masters and Doctorate levels
  • Bridging programs following Masters/Doctorate degrees will enable dual specialisation and facilitate retention of diversity within the specialty psychology fields.
  • Australian psychology training overall will become significantly more comparable with the internationally transportable EuroPsy.
  • The increased flexibility and redesign does not alter current pathways for research-based postgraduate options. 
KEY STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS
  • The six year minimum training requirement for registration is retained.
  • Adequate training in the scientific discipline of psychology is ensured through retention of a broad three-year undergraduate psychology degree, but with increased emphasis on the application of psychology in workplace settings, including applied experience. 
  • The fourth year is redesigned so that it articulates into Masters degrees and becomes a common first year for training in the profession involving a rigorous thesis, but only one thesis is completed for Honours/Masters.
  • The fifth year Graduate Diploma in Professional Psychology is converted to a 'regular' Masters degree in generalist psychology practice. This is followed by one year of supervised generalist practice for registration.
  • The current professional Masters degree involving two years full-time university training after the common fourth year is redesigned to create an AQF Extended Masters degree. This is followed by two years of supervised specialised practice for area of practice endorsement registration.
  • The current professional Doctorate degree involving around three years full-time university training is redesigned to include two years of research. This is followed by one year of supervised specialised practice for area of practice endorsement registration.
  • The current combined Masters/PhD is redesigned to be four years full-time university training.
  • One year bridging programs are introduced after specialist professional Masters/Doctorate degrees to enable transition to a second specialty (when the original thesis and practicum are relevant to the second specialty).
  • The currently available research degrees – Honours, Masters and PhD – are retained.

 

The various possible training routes to provisional registration, full registration, and area of practice endorsement within the proposed new model are presented in Figure 1 below, together with a comparison to the EuroPsy.

Three-year undergraduate degree

The three-year APAC-accredited sequence in psychology which forms the undergraduate degree would be retained. The psychology studies would contain more pre-professional and applied content than the current psychology major to provide graduates with competencies that are both more attractive to employers and better facilitate progression to postgraduate studies. The undergraduate psychology sequence would include applied experiences to provide students with the opportunity to develop their understanding of how the knowledge, skills and attitudes to the psychology discipline and profession that they have learned are integrated and can be applied to self, groups and society.

Fourth year 

The current options for undertaking fourth year as an Honours degree before research would be retained.

For students undertaking the professional training pathway, the APAC-accredited fourth year of psychology studies may no longer be a requirement before commencing a Masters degree, but would rather form the first common year of professional postgraduate studies but still have a focus on the research thesis. A rigorous thesis comprising around 50 per cent of the content would be complemented with some foundational professional psychology core units, including tests and testing, normal and abnormal development and psychopathology, as well as basic skills in counselling and assessment. Students undertaking the research pathway for their postgraduate studies would have alternative units in advanced research design and statistics.

The fourth year in the professional pathyway would become the common year to articulate into professional postgraduate degrees and in this way would mean only one thesis is required, thereby allowing more time for coursework and practicum in the Masters degree. For those going on to Doctorate degrees, the fourth year research thesis would be assessed and it may be possible to be extended by additional research in the following years. 

Generalist Masters degree

The proposed new generalist Masters degree would involve core professional coursework covering a broad range of practice and a practicum of 300 hours, followed by one-year of supervised generalist practice for registration. This training would follow the fourth year, which may count as the first year of a two-year 'regular' Masters degree under the revised AQF, comprising a total of five years of university study. 

The fifth year of study would comprise generic professional units that are common to all specialties, enabling education in larger classes that could include other postgraduate students.

Specialist Masters degree

The current requirement of an APAC-accredited Masters degree for specialist psychology training would be retained, where students gain entry to selective programs based on their academic results, experience and an interview. The specialist Masters degree would be redesigned to be considered a three-year Extended Masters under the revised AQF, with the first year being the common fourth year incorporating the research thesis. 

The specialist Masters would include coursework (50% core and 50% specialist) and 1,000 hours of practicum. The fifth year could share many core coursework classes with the generalist Masters degree, with specialist coursework programmed in the sixth year and shared with Doctorate students. Following successful completion of a specialist Masters degree, students would be eligible for full registration, and a further two years of supervised specialist practice would enable eligibility for area of practice endorsement registration.

Doctorate degrees

The existing professional Doctorate degree would be redesigned and involve three years of full-time study incorporating two years of research to meet requirements under the revised AQF. However, only one thesis may be required as the common fourth year thesis may be possible to be upgraded at the start of the fifth year to the Doctorate of Psychology level. The professional training would incorporate coursework (50% core and 50% specialist) and a practicum of 1,500 hours. This would be followed by one-year of supervised specialist practice to enable area of practice endorsement registration. 

The existing option of a PhD combined with the coursework and supervised practicum of a specialist Masters degree would be retained and would qualify the student for full registration. The combined degree would entail four years of full-time study. Another 18 months of supervised specialist pactice would be required for area of practice endorsement registration.

The option of a research PhD would also be retained. 

Bridging programs 

The introduction of the option to complete a bridging program after completing a specialised professional Masters or Doctorate program would enable students to apply for a second area of practice endorsement. The bridging program would involve one year of study, containing coursework in the second specialty and at least 500 hours of specialised practicum in that area. By following the bridging program with a further two years of supervised specialised practice in the second specialty, students could then apply for the second area of practice endorsement. 

What do you think of the proposed model?

Members have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed APS model of psychology education and training. Please forward your comments to model@psychology.org.au

 

InPsych August 2012